By Mike Callaghan - Welsh Guards Veteran.
I left school at 15 to to join the Welsh Guards. It seemed the obvious route for me as I lived in Brecon, which is in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. During my time in the military, I did a lot of adventure training and where my love for the outdoors developed.
I left the military and joined the Merchant Navy and became a Petty officer mechanic. This obviously reduced my exposure to the hills but opened a new love of the sea where I took up sport diving and eventually became and instructor.
During my time in the Merchant navy when on leave I gained my HGV1 and during longer times waiting for a ship( in those days we registered with a shipping pool) I would drive articulated trucks in the UK and continent.
However my love of adventure took over and I became a Saturation diver offshore. During this time I also did close protection again during longer waits between jobs.
I did close protection in Iraq for 3 years at the height of the troubles and was also the team medic.
I decided after Iraq to go down the medical route full time and went on a Emergency medical technicians course in the USA which led to me staying on there and writing and teaching tactical medicine to the military and law enforcement. I ended up Qualified as a paramedic in Indiana.
As my family were still in the UK I decided I had done enough traveling and joined the Welsh ambulance service which I retired from in Sept 2022 but still do the odd bank shift.
During nearly all of the jobs I did I was witness to traumas, loss of friends,scenes of devestation,many deceased people children and adults and was diagnosed with PTSD.
About 6 yrs ago I went to my local climbing wall ,my wife had secretly booked it as a surprise. Within half an hour the bug was back and I decided that indoor wall climbing would be a good way of keeping fit.
I lasted about 2 months before I realised I needed to get outdoors more and so I took up sport climbing. By now the love of being outdoors had taken over so within a couple of months I took up trad climbing.
I am lucky as the Gower and Pembrokeshire are on my doorstep and North Wales a couple of hours drive so plenty of choices.
I also started going out on the Brecon beacons and Black mountains walking and the enjoyment I got from this led to me joining the mountain rescue where I am now in training for the next few months and can hopefully use my Paramedic skills to assist in the rescues.
I had a few relapses with PTSD over the years nothing as bad as some. I never felt suicidal luckily but would feel low for weeks at a time and become very anxious.
I saw various councillors and tried different techniques but all it did for me was improve my feelings for a few weeks.
My biggest improvement has come since climbing and going on the hills. The feeling of freedom is wonderful. With the climbing my mind is free of everything other than how to climb the route and how not to fall.
I have met so many great people climbing, made new friends and been to some absolutely beautiful locations it's hard not to love it.
When out walking on the hills, again I feel free and all worries just seem to disappear as I look at some of the fantastic scenery and take in the peacefulness of it all.
I still have the odd bad day I always will but if time permits I either get my climbing gear or hill gear out and get outdoors regardless of weather,( OK a severe storm I may stay in and put the telly on ) and just take all the peacefulness of the outdoors in.
I joined the Guards veterans mountaineering group as I felt I could enjoy my love of the outdoors with like-minded people with similar backgrounds and I am looking forward to getting actively involved and enjoying the great outdoors even more in the future with them
I am now coming up to 66yo and feel better than I have done for a number of years. I intend to keep it going for as long as possible maybe just ease back a bit in my 70s LOL.
So to anyone suffering some form of stress, I highly recommend trying to get out on the hills! It may not be right for everyone, but if it is right for you the
benefits are fantastic.